Persecution and social histories: Towards an Adornian critique of Levinas

Philosophy and Social Criticism 36 (6):719-733 (2010)
The respective philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Theodor Adorno share a concern with articulating a critique of Husserlian phenomenology which would do justice to the materiality of the subject. With this commonality in mind, it is argued that Levinas reifies this materiality by endowing it with a metaphysical priority expressive of ethical universality. In contrast, Adorno eschews the philosophical obsession with the assertion of metaphysical priority, insisting on the complexly historical nature of material life. In place of the Levinasian concern with the subject’s forgetting of her or his ethical responsibilities to ‘the Other’, Adorno’s notion of the primacy of the object helps to articulate the ways in which the subject is always already materially bound by singular social histories which are essentially exclusionary. Amelioration of our suffering would thus depend on a concrete break in material social life, rather than on an abstractly conceived revelation of transcendence
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